State turns its eye on vision testing for students

Alison Swade and Joe Sinopoli

Along with pencils, papers and crayons, students may be required to bring eyeglasses to school next year.

An Illinois law passed in January requires all children to receive an eye examination before they enter kindergarten in the 2008-09 school year. Pending the governor’s approval, another new law may alter the age students receive a physical examination from fifth to sixth grade.

District 95 Superintendent Thomas Hurlburt said the required testing will serve to catch those students who are in need of glasses.

“I think there will be times when they will find a kid is struggling and can be helped with glasses,” Hurlburt said. “There’s probably a number of students out there who will benefit from a more thorough eye exam.”

The new law specifies all kindergarten students must have a completed eye exam by Oct. 15 or have proof that they will be receiving one within 60 days. Any student who received a health exam within one year prior to entering fifth grade may not be required to have another, according to the legislation pending the governor’s approval.

If students are unable to complete an exam, they must submit a waiver specifying the reasons. If an eye exam is not completed, the district has the right to withhold students’ report cards.

Dr. Colby Carter of American Vision Centers in North Riverside said he has been examining children since March who are getting ready to start kindergarten later in the year.

“A lot of parents seem very active in getting the process rolling,” Carter said. “They are definitely starting early.”

What he’s found is a significant number of children who are in need of help.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a lot, but about a third of the kids I see need glasses,” Carter said.

Dr. Gary Campbell of Pearl Vision Center in North Riverside said there are people bringing children in for routine exams that probably would not have  before the law was passed. Still, they are not flocking in.

Campbell said the required exams will be helpful in detecting the early signs of amblyopia, more commonly known as  ‘lazy eye.’

“It’s a potentially preventative situation,” Campbell said.

La Grange ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Benjamin said the law was passed to address concerns over amblyopia and the need to do something about it before children reach the age of 8.

“If it’s caught early enough, with glasses or patching, you can train (the eyes) and allow children to develop good vision,” Benjamin said.

Suburban Life Publications